Ever since the first Christmas movie debuted in 1898 folks have developed their own list of their favorite Christmas movies. Christmas has come and gone this year, but the debate over Christmas movies just never seems to stop.
One hundred years ago, to get away from it all, long before the Carroll Theatre opened in 1937, Westminster had a number of “moving picture” theaters. According to historian Nancy Warner, the “golden age of business and entertainment on Main Street in Westminster occurred largely between 1900 and 1930.” Westminster “simultaneously” supported three movie theaters. The Ki-Yi O Motion Picture Parlour and the Star Theater were both located on West Main Street, and another theater was located in the Albion Hotel at the corner of Main Street and the railroad tracks.
The cost of admission was five cents. “Illustrated songs – moving pictures acting out familiar songs – were also popular.” The Odd Fellows Hall, 140 East Main Street, opened an “opera house” on Feb. 1, 1912 and “quickly became the most popular movie theater in town . . .”
A March 13, 1897 article in the local newspaper, the Democratic Advocate, asked, “When will wonders cease? This is a question that has been asked many hundreds of times since the introduction of the Cineograph. This machine projects pictures on a screen moving just as in life. Every motion of the subject is depicted so graphically that you think you are looking at the natural object and not its photograph. This wonderful machine will exhibit in Odd Fellows’ Hall, this city, for one week, commencing Monday, March 15th, showing all of Thomas A. Edison’s latest pictures. Don’t fail to see this scientific wonder, as it will interest you all.”
Of course, the first movies shown in town were silent. I am a big fan of silent films. Most movies produced before the early 1920s were silent. One of my favorite movies from the silent film era is the 1921 classic, “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” But any list of favorite silent movies must include Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” or “City Lights” by Charlie Chaplin. For a little over 25-minutes of fun, be sure to check out the 1920 comedy classic, “High and Dizzy,” by Hal Roach.
According to multiple media sources, the “oldest surviving silent film is known as the ‘Roundhay Garden Scene.’ It was recorded on October 14, 1888, by inventor Louis Le Prince in Roundhay, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire, England . . .”
As for Christmas movies, I recently stumbled upon an 1898 two-minute film from the United Kingdom. According to writer, Eric Diaz, “The first known Christmas movie, and the first-ever on-screen appearance of Kris Kringle, was in 1898′s Santa Claus. This two-minute film came from the U.K., at the very dawn of the film era . . .”
I will forever be amused that the Bruce Willis action movie, “Die Hard,” from 1988 is considered a Christmas movie. To add fuel to the fire, a recent article by Adam Holmes reports, “let’s not forget that last year, ‘Die Hard’ director John McTiernan talked about how ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ influenced his movie, comparing John McClane to George Bailey . . . but, you know, shooting bad guys rather than clashing with a morally-reprehensible banker . . .”
That tidbit is an excellent segue to a discussion of Frank Capra’s Christmas classic. It was 75 years ago, on Dec. 20, 1946, that “It’s a Wonderful Life” had its premiere at the Globe Theater in New York City.
The official release of the movie took place weeks later on Jan. 7, 1947. Frank Capra, Philip Van Doren Stern, Albert Hackett, and Frances Goodrich wrote the movie. The screenplay was based upon a short story, “The Greatest Gift,” written in a Christmas card by Stern in 1943, which was based upon “A Christmas Carol,” written by Charles Dickens in 1843.
Even more meaningful today than it ever was before, the fable-allegory stars James Stewart as George Bailey, who is down on his luck and wishes he had never lived. Full of despair, he decides to jump off a bridge.
The opening scene of the movie is Christmas Eve and Mr. Bailey and his Bailey Building & Loan are facing social and financial ruin as a result of the nefarious actions of the town despot, Mr. Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore.
Henry Travers plays the part of an angel, Clarence Odbody, who materializes just in time to show Mr. Bailey what the world would have been like had he never been born.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” lost money after it was first released. In spite of the fact that it gathered five Oscar nominations, in the late 1940s it was considered by many to be an unsuccessful film. That is, until it lapsed into public domain in 1973, which allowed the networks to show the movie repeatedly without paying royalty fees.
For a movie that is considered to be, according to one review I read, “not particularly complex, deep or stylistically marvelous . . .” it stands as a timeless theme at a critical time of the year – that falling down is a part of life, but getting back up is living. Never forget one of the many famous lines in the movie, “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence.”
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.